Children play at McKinley Elementary in Compton, where parents petitioned… (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles…)
After two months of controversy, the Compton school board Tuesday rejected a petition by parents aiming to use a groundbreaking state law to turn over their struggling elementary school to a charter operator.
Board members with the Compton Unified School District voted unanimously, 7-0, to return the petition to parents at McKinley Elementary , saying it failed to include information required by state regulations. District officials also found that parents cited the wrong education code section and failed to provide evidence that they had selected their desired charter operator, Celerity Educational Group, after a "rigorous review process" as required by state emergency regulations.
"The petition is materially non-qualifying and is being returned as insufficient," the board found.
McKinley parents, whose school ranks in the bottom 10th among all California elementary schools, expressed outrage over the board action at the packed school board meeting.
"I'm very angry and disappointed because they threw away our petitions and destroyed our dreams for a better education for our children," said Marlene Romero, whose third-grade son attends McKinley.
But other parents and teacher union representatives spoke out against the petition, saying the school is making progress.
The closely watched case represented the first test of a new law giving parents the power to petition for major reforms of low-performing schools, including shutting them down, changing staff and programs, and turning the campus over to a charter operator. Charters are independently run, publicly financed schools.
Under the law, valid signatures representing parents of half the school's students are required to trigger the reforms. In Compton, the petition campaign was organized by Parent Revolution, a Los Angeles-based educational reform group and charter school ally. The group said it submitted parent signatures for 275 of 438 McKinley students, or 62%.
Ben Austin, executive director of the Parent Revolution, said the group would challenge the action in court and that the board "has decided to throw away the futures of McKinley's children."
But the petition campaign was plagued by charges and countercharges of deceit, harassment and lies and created bitter campus divisions. The district drew fire — and a class-action lawsuit — for requiring parents to verify their signatures in person with photo identification. More than 60 parent supporters refused to participate in the process and won a temporary restraining order barring the district from continuing those requirements. It is unclear how the board's decision to reject the petition will affect that legal action.
Compton officials reported Tuesday that they were unable to verify parent signatures representing 50% of the 442 students they said were officially enrolled at McKinley at the time the petition was submitted Dec. 7. The district said it could confirm only 250 of the 275 students named on the petition as actually enrolled at the time.
Among those students, district officials found potential problems with the parent signatures for more than 70. In 26 cases, the district had no school records to compare the signatures of the petitioner and the parent of record. In 29 cases, the signatures "appear to be inconsistent" with the school file, the district said. In addition, eight signatures belonged to someone other than the student's legal parent or guardian, and 10 parents indicated they would not participate in the district's verification process.